In the first semester of my freshman year in high school, our school was overtaken by what we thought was a Russian militia. It turned out to be a training exercise for the National Guard, and an educational experience for us as students. It had a profound and lasting effect on me. From that day forward when I would see news of a school in Russia or other similar countries overtaken and held hostage I knew firsthand the fear that they felt. For me it was an educational experience, but for them it is a way of life.
It was an ordinary Tuesday morning at Texas High School, or so I thought. I was a headstrong freshman in the innocent pre-terrorism days before 9-11. I was above average academically, and possibly sub-par socially, but I was merely trying to get acquainted with my new surroundings. My biggest challenge was just trying to avoid upper class bullies. Everyone was filing into the gym before the bell would ring that would signify that start of another uneventful day. Everyone went to talk to their friends in groups as though we were caucusing for political office.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The same teachers were uninterested providing supervision, as though they had been called to jury duty for a traffic stop, but little did we know that this was not just any Tuesday. About five minutes before the opening bell rang we heard an awkward roar, which just seemed out of place, coming from the rear of the building. What seemed like instantaneously the doors on the back of the gym simultaneously flew open as though they were being ripped off of the hinges by a tornado.
The football field was situated directly behind the gym so that when all of the doors were open you had a panoramic view of the field. All I could see were helicopters. Then what seemed like an innumerable force of men blacked out from head to toe equipped with fully automatic assault rifles came through the doors. We were ordered to get on the floor and not make a sound, which was not hard for me because I was already there. It took several seconds for, the girls mostly but some guys also, to control their emotions to comply with the command given.
Terror raced through the gym as if it were a contagious disease spreading at an epidemic rate. So many questions raced through my mind about what was happening as I was lying there defenseless. Was I going to graduate? Would I have kids? What would my future be; would I even have a future? In that instance you try to figure out what is going on as if trying to break some clandestine code. The truth is that no one knew what was happening. The group that had taken over our school was unlike any I have ever seen before.
They took orders from one man as if he were the only one that had voice capable of speaking. He spoke in what I thought was Russian; although admittedly I am not a foreign language major. Once they had the gym completely under control they brought our principal into the gym at gunpoint. You could hear the scattered whimpers and squelches, of those who had not completely bridled their emotions, speckled throughout the gym. He spoke to our principal in whatever language it was; which he in turn told us that we were being held hostage and that if we did what we were told everyone would be fine.
After the longest thirty minutes of my life; American troops stormed the gym like a D-day reenactment. Only they did not attack the foreign force; on the contrary they start shaking hands with them as if they had just played a friendly softball game. Then we were informed as to what had just taken place. he National Guard was performing an exercise on foreign hostage situations. Little did we know that the commander of the National Guard in Texas had a brother that was a high school principal, not just a principal, but our principal.
Our principal and his brother received awards for their creative way of teaching us the benefit of living in America and making us aware of events that actually occur in other parts of the world. Some kids were notably upset as were their parents. I on the other hand took it as a way of relating to other people and the struggles they deal with every day. My parents always had the “things were a lot harder when we were growing up” attitude so they didn’t have a problem with it either. The reality that this sort of thing actually happens in parts of the world hit home that morning.
A place that once represented shelter and serenity had now lost that innocence. Here, where we once felt safe, we would no longer regardless of the simplicity of this event. They took our freedom temporarily, but more importantly they took the innocence of our future. On 9-11, the emotions I felt that day rushed back as though it were yesterday. We would no longer be naïve when coming to school. Every time I entered that gym from that moment on I thought of the fear and anxiety I felt that day. One thing was for sure that was not an ordinary Tuesday. In fact, there would never be another ordinary day.